Key Meeting on Wednesday: Germany Moves Closer to Banning Far-Right Party

German regional authorities are expected to decide this week to attempt to ban the far-right National Democratic Party, following an extensive review of the case against the extremists. But Chancellor Angela Merkel remains skeptical. If the legal bid were to fail, the NPD would get a major boost.

NPD members and supporters at a demonstration in Berlin. Will the party be outlawed? Zoom
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NPD members and supporters at a demonstration in Berlin. Will the party be outlawed?

Germany is expected to move closer this week to launching a legal bid to ban the far-right National Democratic Party after a government-commissioned report labeled it as having an "anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic position" and being "related" to National Socialism.

Politicians and legal experts have been debating for almost a year about the prospects of an attempt to outlaw the party, which is represented in two eastern state assemblies, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. As a legitimate party, it is partly funded by taxpayers' money.

Calls for a ban intensified last year following the revelation that a neo-Nazi terror group calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU) was behind the murders of nine immigrant shopkeepers and a policewoman in a killing spree that police had failed to detect for more than a decade. The news triggered demands for a general crackdown on right-wing extremism, as part of which the government began reviewing the possibility of a new attempt to outlaw the NPD after a first bid failed in 2003.

Pressure for a ban also grew after it emerged that the former spokesman for the NPD in Thuringia, Ralf Wohlleben, allegedly helped the terrorists. State prosecutors have charged him with aiding in the murders.

Last week, a working group of central and regional authorities submitted a 141-page report on the strength of the case against the NPD. It listed incendiary speeches and articles by more than 400 members of the party. But it also cautioned that the outcome of a legal bid to outlaw the party was unclear.

Regional States to Blaze Trail For Ban

A previous attempt to abolish the NPD failed in 2003 because of the presence of government informants in the party's ranks. Federal Constitutional Court, the body which has to rule on a ban, threw out the case on the grounds that NPD policies were being shaped in part by government agents.

To prevent another failed attempt, authorities this year severed ties with informants in the party. But some politicians, including Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, remain skeptical about the prospects for a new case and warn that another failure would strengthen the NPD, just as it did in 2003.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the interior ministers of Germany's 16 regional states are widely expected to recommend that a second attempt be made to ban the party. The state governors meeting on Thursday in Berlin are likely to follow that recommendation, which would pave the way for the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament that represents the regional states, to vote on December 14 in favor of an NPD ban.

In this case, the federal government and the Bundestag lower house of parliament, despite lingering doubts, would be expected to join the case. A failure to show the common front would be seen as a victory for the NPD and as weakness on the part of Germany's political establishment.

Abandoning Case Now Would Boost NPD

"The NPD must be banned," the governor of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, told Die Welt newspaper in an interview published on Monday. "Abandoning the case to ban it would give the right-wing extremists an enormous boost."

The central government remains unconvinced. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger both have doubts about the chances of success.

The case for a ban was reinforced last week by senior judge Franz-Wilhelm Dollinger, an expert on the NPD, who wrote in a legal assessment: "An overall review shows the goals of the NPD to be incompatible with the liberal democratic order of the constitution."

Dollinger's arguments, written at the request of the Lower Saxony state government, concluded that a ban attempt would have a better-than-50 percent chance of getting approved by the Federal Constitutional Court.

'Intense Rhetoric of Overthrow and Violence'

Dollinger pointed out that the NPD's ideology based on "racial purity" ran counter to the constitution's central tenet of human dignity for all. He wrote that radical neo-Nazi groups, with which the NPD had established closer links in recent years, were violent, although the NPD couldn't be linked to the crimes committed by the NSU.

But he added that the NPD pursued an "intense rhetoric of overthrow and violence" and pointed to its "concept of the battle or the fight for the streets" and to its call for the system to be overcome by force if necessary and with the help of "political soldiers."

But Dollinger added that there were risks that a legal ban may fail. Even though authorities had pledged to stop using informants in senior NPD positions, it was impossible to assess whether they really had, he wrote.

"It's important that we learn from the failed case in 2002/2003," Interior Minister Friedrich told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Sunday. He said even though authorities had been painstakingly collecting evidence against the party and had severed ties with NPD officials, one had to "point out the remaining judicial and political risks."

cro -- with wire reports

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